For the third straight time, the Florida Gators have lost a game in The Swamp after falling to South Carolina 23-20. Apparently the saying "The Swamp, only Gators get out alive" should now go, "The Swamp, only Tigers, Gamecocks, Tigers (again), and occasionally Gators get out alive." With this loss, the Gators have officially been eliminated from SEC East contention.
The Gators had this game in the bag up 17-10 with less than four minutes in the game. Then, special teams proceeded to implode right before our very eyes. Senior Frankie Velez's kick, which would have put the Gators up 10 and essentially sealed the game, was blocked. The special team gaffes did not end there, though.
After stopping the Gamecocks on fourth down, the Gators got the ball back and failed to run out the clock. With 41 seconds left in the game, star punter Kyle Christy came out and just needed to punt the ball away to secure a hard-fought victory over South Carolina. However, calamity struck again as the Gamecocks blocked Christy's punt to give them excellent field position.
They would tie the game on an option play to running back Mike Davis with 12 seconds left in regulation. Davis fumbled the pitch as he ran into the end zone, but a lucky bounce caused the ball to come right back to him.
South Carolina rode the momentum into overtime as they held the Gators to a field goal and then walked off with the win on quarterback Tyler Thompson's three-yard touchdown run. I was completely numb as I watched all this unfold. The Gators had completely thrown this game away!
The conservative "play not to lose" mentality of Muschamp and the offense came back to bite them hard as the Gators threw the ball just 11 times compared to South Carolina's 42 attempts. After this heartbreaking loss, I am all but certain that the Will Muschamp era at Florida is reaching its now inevitable and merciful conclusion.
No head coach can lose three straight games in The Swamp and expect to stick around at Florida for too long. What used to be such a feared venue in college sports is now a joke as many teams have come in this season alone and walked out as winners. South Carolina had the worst defense in the SEC coming into this game and the Gators only managed 17 points against them!
As I said earlier, this can be attributed to the heavily run-dominated offense that Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper embrace. The Gators totaled 218 yards on the ground with quarterback Treon Harris leading the way with 111 yards on 20 rushing attempts! The offense became so predictable that I was soon correctly guessing when the Gators would be running the next designed quarterback run play.
Although Treon was the team's leading rusher, it was Matt Jones who scored the lone Gator rushing touchdown. He had 63 total rushing yards on 18 attempts. Jones's teammate and backfield contemporary Kelvin Taylor had just 47 yards and no touchdowns.
When the Gators did throw, it seemed to be at times only when the coaching staff felt it was absolutely necessary. What was the result? We all got to see Treon throw it just five times for 60 yards and one touchdown. His longest pass of the game was a 32-yard strike to Latroy Pittman.
The receivers were essentially glorified blockers today as they all combined for just FIVE receptions! Sophomore Demarcus Robinson was the leader with three receptions for 20 yards and the only Gator receiving touchdown of the game. Pittman led the receiving yards category as he caught just ONE ball for 32 yards. Senior tight end Tevin Westbrook also recorded just a single catch for eight yards.
The offense was atrocious, predictable, conservative, and everything else in between. This reminded me of the exact same gimmick offense the Gators ran against South Carolina in Columbia last year. The only difference this time around was that the more athletic Treon Harris was playing quarterback as opposed to Skyler Mornhinweg. Despite having different players and home-field advantage, the result was still the same: South Carolina won the game.
The defense kept the Gators in the game as much as they could before finally folding during the waning moments of regulation. They forced no turnovers and held the Gamecocks to under 100 rushing yards as they gave up 301 yards of total offense.
Junior linebacker Antonio Morrison was the leading tackler with 16 (0.5 for loss). Right behind him were senior safety Jabari Gorman and senior linebacker Neiron Ball with nine tackles and senior linebacker Michael Taylor with eight. Junior defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr. were able to record one sack a piece.
Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and his secondary were lock down as usual as they broke up four passes and blew no coverages. VH3 had five tackles and a big hit on 4th down and 2 that snuffed out a South Carolina option play.
No more needs to be said about special teams. Velez made one 34-yard field goal before his blocked kick and Christy had punted seven balls for 218 yards before his blocked punt. In all my years of watching college football, I have never seen a team choke the way the Gators did today.
Believe it or not, there actually is a positive I can take away from this game. This loss, as bad as it is, was good for the University of Florida because it most likely spells the end for Will Muschamp and his losing ways. I have been done for a while now with this conservative offense that pays no mind to the passing aspect of football. This offense may be enough against Eastern Kentucky, but I can promise that it will not get the job done against Florida State in Tallahassee.
In an ideal world, Muschamp is notified of his job termination before Monday and the preliminary recruiting process for prospective head coaches can begin. The University of Florida can let him finish out the season like Zook did in 2004, and then we say goodbye to Muschamp... forever. Until that day comes however, the 5-4 Gators still need to focus on getting golden win number six to become bowl eligible.
They have a good shot at it as they prepare to take on the Eastern Kentucky Colonels (9-2) on senior day at 12 p.m. in The Swamp. South Carolina (5-5, 3-5 in SEC play) will also be looking to become bowl eligible as they return home for senior day against the South Alabama Jaguars (6-4). Kickoff is at 12 p.m. for this game as well.
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com
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